Lessons from Lockdown
To some, Saturday 4th July will have felt like the United Kingdom’s very own Independence Day. To others, it may have felt more like D-Day.
In case you’ve somehow missed it, following the relaxing of certain Government ‘lockdown’ restrictions, pubs and other hospitality establishments were permitted to re-open on that date. For many, it represented a step towards normal service (whatever that is) being resumed (what that says about the country, I’m not sure!).
Whilst ‘normal service’ is still an awful long way from being resumed, it’s fair to say that the restrictions are not now as, well, restrictive, as they were in recent weeks. I don’t want to be the herald that ‘the end of the restrictions is in sight’ (I don’t personally believe it is), but I do want to take an opportunity to reflect on some lessons that we can learn from the lockdown period.
More astute people than me have likely done this already – they probably did it around week two of lockdown – but here’s my two-penneth, for what they’re worth.
It is not good for us to be alone.
In my job I get the chance to talk to lots of different people over the course of a week. Some are young, some older. Some are married, some single. Some are employed, others not. Whilst their life stories are as unique as you’d expect to find, everyone that I’ve spoken to has reported missing the chance to be with other people. Granted, it kicked in earlier for some than for others, and granted it’s felt more acutely by some than others, but I’ve not yet found a person who has claimed that being prevented from having contact with other people has led to a personal sense of flourishing and wellbeing.
This isn’t news. Psychologists have known it for a long time. Some people during these strange times have experienced low mood, ‘feeling blue’ periods of feelings of depression and acute isolation. And our experiences – in the main – whilst not insignificant, haven’t been the worst. We’ve found workarounds with phones, text messages, social media and everyone’s new favourite piece of technology, Zoom! However, in more extreme cases, psychologists and biologists have discovered that deprivation of human contact can have real psychological impact upon us as well as serious harmful physical and other health-related effects. So what’s going on? Why have we struggled so much not being able to see friends and loved ones – or even just having passing interactions with others in a supermarket aisle? Well, our experience and every research finding is confirming something that God said. Having created everything, and seen that it was really good, the first thing God said wasn’t good was when he looked and saw the man that he’d created all on his jack. God’s declaration? “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18).
It’s in our blueprint. It’s how we’re hard-wired. We’re designed for connection, for relationship, dare I say it… for community. At the very core of God’s nature is relationship – a perfect, harmonious relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we, having been made in His likeness carry that same in-built design for connection primarily with God, but also with others.
I wonder whether we’ll ever take relationships and social interactions with others for granted like we were perhaps guilty of before, once all restrictions are finally removed. It’s nice to think that we won’t, but our memories can be very short on occasions. Let’s commit to rebuilding significant relationships that push through the superficiality of polite conversation and let’s be deliberate about pursuing deeper friendships within which we can both give and receive the benefit of connection with others. After all, it’s not good for us to be alone.
Life is fragile
I’m a big Sting fan. I like his work in the Police, but I prefer his solo stuff. In his song ‘Fragile’, he penned the line ‘lest we forget how fragile we are.’ (You can find a version here, but please forgive the horrific ponytail!). He was onto something. Prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, we may have notionally known that what lay ahead of us was death, but most people readily pushed that to the back of their mind. However, daily briefings with rising numbers of COVID-related fatalities and statistics that relayed how many had contracted the disease, how many were in hospital with the disease, etc, all served to reposition our own mortality back at the forefront of our collective conscious awareness.
One observation I made in the early days following lockdown being imposed (you can watch here) was about the priority – sometimes unhealthily – that we give to our own preservation of life. We invest every ounce of resource we have in preserving and extending life. We put our roots down so deep that the idea of death petrifies us. But we’d do well to heed some ancient wisdom. King David – a king over ancient Israel who penned a lot of the songs in the Bible, which we call Psalms, understood the right perspective on our lives. He wrote “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and it’s place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:14).
Fleeting. Transient. Fragile. Here today, gone tomorrow. That’s our life. Now I’m not wanting to appear insensitive, but we’d help ourselves if we’ll grasp something of that perspective. And rather than cling as tightly as we can to this life, invested in things that have a significance and an endurance beyond the sum of our days. This life is fragile. This life is like a vapour, blown away in the wind. But there is a life that is eternal, and you can discover that life in Jesus so that this earth and all of its days are not the sum of what you live for and invest in, but give way ultimately to life in all its fullness in God’s very presence.
Life is fragile. Cherish it and handle it well.
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
Continuing the theme of quoting 80s singers, Amy Grant sang in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (don’t worry, no link included, I do have standards!) that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Something about that notion resonates. The freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted with whom we wanted – all removed in one daily briefing. The ability to go and buy pasta when we’d run out? Gone. Watching our favourite football team not win the Premier League (I still really wish the season had been abandoned!)? Removed. Life as we knew it changed in a moment. Not irreversibly, and I’m not saying most of the things we lost won’t return. But it does show me how much I, and probably you, took for granted in life.
Taking things for granted is a symptom of a deeper problem. It highlights – and I’m sorry if this is uncomfortable reading - an underlying attitude of entitlement. Have you ever seen footage of a village in a remote part of Africa celebrating with extravagant delight when a pump is installed giving access to clean water? Why would they be so glad? Because the thing we have, the thing we take for granted, they’ve never had before. Our ready and instant access to water… or in this case pasta, football and everything else we’ve felt acutely the temporary loss of… dulls our appreciation of it. It makes us less grateful, less appreciative.
Now, pasta and football are hardly the be all and end all, but they do highlight just how much we took for granted, and just how lacking in gratitude for all that we had and could do before lockdown begun. Maybe the busyness of life, the hectic – almost manic – rushing around keeping plates spinning pre-lockdown made it hard to slow down to appreciate and be grateful. However, let me invite you to stay grateful. As restrictions are relaxed further, and as freedoms eventually return, hold on to an appreciation of all that you have, and all that’s returning.
So, some musings. There are many other things I’ve personally learnt, and much for the church to be thinking through. What would you say has been the key thing you’ve learnt throughout this time? What changes have you made that you’re keen to hold onto as restrictions are further relaxed? Let me know in the comments below.